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Why Do Golf Courses Have 18 Holes?

Twilight Park

April 6, 2022

From Golf magazine:

In the beginning, there was St. Andrews. And this old course that is most appropriately named THE Old Course had 18 holes. Well, near the beginning it had 18 holes, that is. And eventually, other courses were copycats.

Those are the broad strokes of how a typical golf course came to have 18 holes. Sadly, the number has nothing to do with how many shots are in a bottle of Scotch—though that makes for a much more fun story.

It took a long time for this to become standard.

How did St. Andrews come to have 18 holes?

The first courses actually varied in number of holes, and even St. Andrews had 22 at one point. According to the website Scottish Golf History, the number was cut to 18 pretty arbitrarily when four short holes were combined into two (played in two directions) in 1764.

And this still wasn’t a template right away for other courses as evidenced by Prestwick Golf Club opening in 1851 with just 12 holes.

In fact, Prestwick’s hosted the first 12 Open Championships beginning in 1860.

It would have been a baker’s dozen of Opens to start, but there was no tournament in 1871 because Young Tom Morris was allowed to just keep the title belt (yes, an actual belt) that year because he had won the three previous years.

When the Open returned in 1872 at Prestwick, it remained a 36-hole event and stayed that way when it moved to St. Andrews (two rounds of 18) in 1873 and Musselburgh (four rounds of 9!) in 1874.

In 1881, Prestwick finally joined a number of other courses in getting on board with having 18 holes, because, again, everyone was trying to copy the Old Course, which also happens to be where the Royal and Ancient Golf Club is based. And when you're regarded as "The Home of Golf," people tend to follow your lead.

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